There are many different poultry choices that can be raised on your homestead or hobby farm these days. If you are thinking about adding ducks to your country life, then you may find this article helpful. It is all about ducks! Baby duck care for beginners, reasons why to consider ducks and adult duck care.
Baby Duck Care for Beginners Vocab
- Hen or duck – An adult female duck
- Drake – An adult male duck
- Duckling – A Baby Duck
- Straight run – This means that the ducklings are unsexed. If you purchase straight run ducklings, you could end up with either males or females.
- Brooder – A temperature-controlled area used for raising newly hatched ducklings.
Why to keep ducks on your homestead/hobby farm.
People add ducks to their homesteads or farms for the same purpose others buy chickens. Two main reasons why are that ducks produce large eggs and are a great source of meat.
Ducks produce a large egg that has a tough shell and holds a very large dark yellow yolk. Comparing duck eggs to chicken eggs you will find that the chicken egg is about ½ the duck eggs size. Eating duck eggs has many nutritional benefits; I have found that the duck eggs have a stronger taste to them. Their large size is great when eggs are needed for baking.
Duck is a form of poultry, so it is technically a white meat even though it appears to be darker in color. The meat tends to have more flavor to it naturally and is more like the dark meat found on chicken. Duck has a higher fat content especially when eaten with the skin on. Cooking duck at home is not for everyone, but if you plan on raising ducks you should give it a try.
We have raised a variety of ducks going on 7 years now for meat and eggs, but there are also many different reasons we enjoy keeping ducks on our farm. Read 10 Reasons, Why Ducks? to learn about other reasons to keep ducks.
What Baby Duck is Right For You
There are many duck breeds to choose from, but when deciding you should consider your environment and what the ducks will be used for. For example, we live where it gets cold and snows in the winter, so we need a hardier duck that will survive the winter. The breed you choose will depend on your needs.
Three common meat duck breeds
- The Pekin Duck Breed is the most common breed found in the United States. Pekins are large white ducks with a very easy-going temperament. They are used for both meat and eggs, but their large size and white feathers makes them the ideal meat duck.
- The Rouen Duck Breed can also be found throughout the United States. The Rouen breed is a larger version of the wild mallard duck breed. This breed of duck is very large and weighs 9-10lbs and have very flavorful meat.
- The Muscovy Duck Breed is another large, bodied duck that can weigh up to 15 lbs. It is said that these ducks have excellent meat with fat content than other large duck breeds. Muscovy ducks do not resemble any other duck breed, they have red warty faces with varying feather color. They are becoming more popular within the United States.
Common Egg Laying Duck Breeds
- Khaki Campbell Ducks are the ultimate egg laying breed, producing 300 or more eggs a year. These smaller ducks are a tan color, just as their name implies. When these little ducks are not laying eggs, they are great foragers.
- The Pekin Duck as mentioned above is one of the most common breeds used for meat, but they are also great egg layers as well. This large duck breed produces large white eggs as well. If a dual-purpose bird is what you’re after, then look no further than the pekin duck.
- Runner Ducks are becoming more common on homesteads and farms in the United States. These ducks do not lay as many eggs as the other two duck breeds listed, but hey have colored eggs. Runner duck eggs have a bluish green tint to them and are slightly bigger than a chicken egg. If commercial egg farming is your plan, then I recommend choosing one of the other breeds listed. If you like having a strange duck with personality and bug catching abilities, then runner ducks are a great choice egg layer.
Where to Buy Your Ducklings
Ducks are becoming a common form of poultry and can be purchased many ways.
Many hatcheries have websites where you can look through breeds that they have to offer. Once you have decided on your breed of choice, you add the amount you would like to your cart and pay for them. Ducklings are not shipped directly to your home; they will be delivered to your local post office for pick up. One that we have used and been very happy with is Townline Hatchery, in Michigan
- Large Farm Supply Stores
Beginning in March the large farm supply stores will have chick days, ours usually carries two or three breeds of ducks. You will find the common breeds such as Pekins and Runners during this time. If they do not have the breed you are looking for in the store most are happy to help order and ship them. We have a Tractor Supply near us, that has chick days.
- Local Feed Mills
Local Feed Mills will also be able to help with your duckling needs. They may not have them on site like the large supply store, but they can order the ducklings for you. Our local mill works with a large hatchery in our state, so they can have the ducklings shipped right to the mill. This is also a great way to support a local business in the community.
- Classified Ads
Look through a newspaper or craigslist in your area. People will list adult ducks and ducklings and they are usually priced fairly. People will sometimes create these ads because they have to many and are trying to get rid of them for free. This type of buying will require you to make your own travel arrangements to get your new ducks to your farm.
- Local Farms
We live in an area where you see signs alongside the roads in the late spring offering different farm animals, products, feed, and equipment for sale. Occasionally we will see signs for chicks and ducklings at this time of year. Take a drive in the country, you never know what you might find.
Baby Duck Care for Beginners Home Prep
Setting Up Your Brooder
Your ducklings need a warm, dry place to grow up healthy and happy. You will need to find a container that you can use as your brooder.
Possible Brooder Containers
- Plastic Totes
- Kiddy Pool
- Recycled play-yard
When deciding on your brooder, keep in mind that ducklings can be messy and that they grow fast. You should chose a container that will be easy for you to clean out and one that will provide enough space for your ducklings to grow.
Once you have your chosen container it is time to fill it with dry bedding materials. You need to chose one that will keep your ducklings dry and safe.
Safe Bedding Materials
- Pine Shavings (Not cedar, it is toxic)
- Wood Pellets
You should be able to find these materials at your farm supply store or local feed mill without problem. The most commonly used are pine shavings or straw. We prefer the pine shavings, they are easy to shovel or dump out and absorb the watery mess ducklings tend to make.
Your brooder is set with nice dry bedding but you will need a heat lamp with a red filtered bulb to keep your ducklings warm.
The heat lamp should be directed at one area of your brooder, so your ducklings can move away from the heat if needed. The temperature will need to be 93 – 90 degrees at floor level for the first week . After the first week it will need to be raised to decrease the temperature by 5 degrees every week. When the ducklings reach 4 weeks the heat can be removed depending on your outdoor temperatures and the development of their feathers.
Duckling Heat Lamp Temperatures
|Week 4||75 or Removed (Depending on Feathers and External Temps.)|
Our ducklings are in our big barn, in a 5’x5′ brooding pen with a heat lamp. Their food and water is place away from the heat lamp so that they have to leave the heated area for a time. I believe this helps them build up a tolerance for the cold a little at a time. We also have 6 or more ducklings at a time, if we happen to have few then that we divide the pen into smaller spaces.
Baby Duck Care for Beginners Basic Essentials
What Do Baby Ducks Eat?
In the first few weeks of your duckling’s life, you will need to feed them a 20-24 percent protein starter crumble. You can use a chicken starter or mash if that is all that is available to you, but you need to make sure that you are buying the non-medicated feed. The medicated feeds are made for chicks, if this feed is given to ducklings it could cause different health issues.
Ducklings also require niacin to help with the growth of their legs at this stage. Chick feed usually doesn’t have the correct amount of niacin that ducklings will need. There are different things that can be added to your duckling’s food or water to make up for the lack of niacin.
- Tablet form
- Powder Form
- Baker’s Yeast
For More information about niacin and what it does for ducklings see this article on the Metzer Farms website.
Water for Baby Ducks
Water is essential for living things, but even more so for ducks. They drink a lot of water use it to help them swallow, clean themselves and play in it a lot. Be prepared for a lot of water and a watery mess. There are different ways to get your baby ducks their water that may help prevent some of the mess.
Water Container Ideas
- Chick Waterer
- Recycled Jugs
- Duck Drinker
- Pvc Pipe Drinker
These are just a few ways to get clean drinking water to your ducklings. At this early stage I would not recommend an open water source, such as dishes or pails. Drowning is a possibility at this early stage, they also do not have the oils that make them “waterproof” or feathers to help regulate their temperature.
Here on our farm we use a chick drinker, placed in a plastic tote with a section of the side cut out. The ducklings are able to use the missing section like a door way to their drinker. An important thing that we do is line the bottom with a cabinet liner to prevent ducklings from slipping and hurting themselves. The tote helps contain the water and keep the surrounding areas dryer a little longer.
When Can Baby Ducks Swim?
One main question that gets asked when it comes to baby duck care for beginners and water is “When can they take their first swim?”.
Ducks will be ducks! The first sight of water and they want to go for a swim. The same goes for baby ducks, even though they should not for the first two weeks. During these first two weeks of life, your baby duck will be without the feathers to help them regulate their body temperature and the oils that they need to dry themselves quickly.
When it is time to introduce you ducklings to water for their first swim, I recommend a small water source such as a flat feed dish with a way for them to get in and out when they want.
Like with children learning to swim, you should be around to play lifeguard in case one ends up in distress.
When Can Ducklings Go Outside?
Ducklings can start taking short trips outside beginning the at 3 or 4 weeks of age. Keep them in a confined area with a babysitter present. The ducklings should only be outdoors when it is at least 65 degrees and sunny. At 3 weeks of age, they still lack their feathers that help regulate their body temperature. Over the next couple of weeks gradually increase the amount of time they spend outdoors, this will get them used to begin outdoors regularly.
Are ducklings are usually allowed to run around in a pen made of hay bales in the beginning, with our son sitting with them. This gives them a babysitter, but it also helps them get used to being around people.
Outside the Brooder
When your ducklings have reached 6 weeks of age, they should have feathers instead of baby fuzz. It is time to move those babies out of their brooder box. If these ducklings are the first in your flock, then they are ready for their adult pen.
If you plan on introducing your ducklings to an existing flock, I recommend placing them in a pen next to your adult duck enclosure. Everyone will be able to see and get to know one another with a barrier between them.
Introducing Ducklings to a Flock
After a day or two of begin housed next to one another, we let everyone out to free-range and have actual interaction with one another. Ducks do not seem to be as aggressive when it comes to establishing a pecking order. We have had a few issues with introducing a new drake, but it usually calms down after some time.
Everyone has been formally introduced, and now you have one flock of ducks!
Your cute little fuzzy babies have grown out of the brooder and are in their permanent place on your farm. You have gone from baby duck care to beginners to healthy productive adult ducks. Enjoy your success of raising happy healthy baby ducks and move on to the next stage Duck Care For Beginners.